An Interview On
University of Pennsylvania

Background

Interview Date:May 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: Biracial: Half Southeast Asian and Half White
Graduation Year: 2019
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Public high school in New Jersey with a graduating class of about 250 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Cognitive Science with a concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a sorority, I tutor once a week in West Philadelphia with the Community School Student Partnerships, I also [have a leadership role] in the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Nothing has had a big impact per se, but tutoring has been something that I really enjoy. It’s something I’ve always thought as important to do because it grounds you. You’re stressed with school all the time and then for three hours a week you’re removed from that and you’re helping people. It’s not something that I had a big learning experience from, but it’s something that’s very important to me and helps me not get engulfed in the silly stresses of college life.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
It depends on the class because Cognitive Science is a very interdisciplinary major. In a lot of the Biology, Psychology, and Neuroscience classes, you learn a lot of information and then you have exams on the information. You have a lot of textbook reading and maybe a couple of quizzes to make sure you’re keeping up with the information, but not a lot of weekly work. The exams are also so hard because they cover so much information. I’ve also taken some classes in the business school that are on behavioral economics and they were more readings and exams.

Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
Something that can be a downside of the department is because it’s so interdisciplinary – the backgrounds of it are psychology, computer science, philosophy, math, linguistics, and neuroscience – there are so many different pathways you can take. I think the department does a really bad job of helping people craft what they want and make the best experience of the classes they can with the classes that count towards your major. Something that happened with me is a lot of the classes I took were introductory classes that were very surface level and I feel like that happened because I didn’t have a strong pathway to take. If I did get more direction into which classes I should look into, I think I would take more classes that build on each other and would apply more to my career.

How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s definitely competitive. People are always studying here. It’s not like school is just something I get done during the week, Saturday and Sunday here are either relaxing from having so much or doing all your work. The competitiveness between people depends on the person, it’s not like every single person is competitive. There are people, who are usually my friends, who will help me out by sending me their notes or something, but there are also people who wouldn’t do that in any situation.

How accessible are your professors?
Pretty accessible. It’s very easy to make a meeting with them. I’ve had experiences when professors maybe aren’t nice when I meet with them, but you’re always able to meet with them or email them. They also have office hours. I would say the resources of the professor being there have always been pretty sufficient in my experience.

What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
Decision Processes. It was one of my favorite classes because a lot of the readings were Malcolm Gladwell readings and focused on how behavioral economics and psychology applied to business settings, which is something I’ve always been interested in. It wasn’t memorizing for a test and there were more interesting discussions in the class.

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose it because it is very interdisciplinary and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Cognitive Science covered a lot of things that I knew I wanted to learn in college, like economics and computer science, were things I was able to learn through my major. I’m happy I chose Cognitive Science but wish that I had a more cohesive experience with the major. With that being said, there’s no other major I would have rather done.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: The Quad with one roommate. I loved it but the rooms weren’t that nice. It’s a really big old building that is all connected and has courtyards in the middle.

Sophomore – Senior: Off-campus house, which is a Philly-style townhouse with seven other people. I had my own room.

How was transitioning from New Jersey to Philadelphia, PA?
It’s very similar. I didn’t have a hard time regarding the transition. Philly is a very interesting city to me. I come from a small town, so being in a city and having multiple Starbucks on your walk to school is different. I’ve absolutely loved it. Being in Philly has been one of the best things about going to Penn. It’s great having the city there and having it not be a very stressful city. It’s calm, easy to get around, and not crazy expensive.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I’ve never had any problems but I’ve had a lot of close friends who have had problems. On the actual campus, I’ve never heard of there being a problem. There is a lot of campus security and there are usually people walking around no matter what time it is. Once you start going more towards West Philadelphia, I’ve heard some pretty sketchy stories of people trying to pickpocket people and that kind of stuff. I don’t feel super comfortable walking home alone at night to my house because in the past four years I’ve had three good friends who have been mugged.

Pros and cons of being located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA?
Pros:
1) There’s so much to do in the city. It opens up a lot of options for students on top of recreational activities, like, I’m able to do tutoring once a week and a lot of people have had internships downtown or work with an organization.

Cons:
1) The con is the safety of being in the city, especially West Philadelphia.
2) The expenses of living in a city. I think the rent I pay is very expensive.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
Greek life parties are really popular. Once a week or every other week the frats will throw a party at a club downtown and those are popular, but I don’t go to them because I prefer to stay on campus and see what’s going on here. There are one or two college-y bars you can go to if you want to stay on campus. Ideally, I like to go to a party that a frat is throwing on campus. There is pretty much always something going on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. There is a drink special at the bar on campus that people like to go to on Wednesdays but I very rarely go to that.

What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Pretty big. The frats are the ones who are predominantly throwing the parties. There aren’t that many people who live together just throwing a big party. If you’re a guy who’s in Greek life it’s a lot more important because you can only go to parties your frat throws or at frats that you have friends in. As a girl, you can pretty much go to anything. I have a lot of guy friends who have transferred into Penn and aren’t in a frat and have a hard time getting into parties. It’s a big impact on your social life because if you don’t know where to go or don’t have any connections to it, you’ll have a hard time navigating it. I’m also biased because the only scene I really see is my sorority’s. My sorority sends out a social schedule every week about what parties are going on with certain frats, so there may be other parties going on but I don’t know them and they’re not as big. [About 27% of undergraduates are involved in Greek life.]

What’s an alternative to going to a party or bar that you like for a night out?
There are a lot of club events on campus, like acapella groups and other shows. Those are fun and I’ve skipped going out to go to those before. There are a lot of restaurants and cool bars downtown. There’s also a movie theater on campus. There’s so much to do.

How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
There’s so much to do here. It’s so nice. I have a love-hate relationship with Greek life where it makes me sad that it’s limited to the kind of people who can get into these parties. But, at the same time, there has to be a cap somewhere because the party gets shut down. Like schools across the country, the school has gotten stricter on Greek life so a lot of parties get shut down now more so than they did in the past.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
My closest friend is my freshman roommate. We didn’t go random but we had never met each other before. Other than that, it would be at parties. What I like about Penn is you rush the second semester, so you have a full semester to make friends based off of what your interests are, not because you felt pressure to join one sorority over the other. Before rush, I had a lot of good friends from seeing each other out and through mutual friends. Then those people who I meet maybe I have a class with because then you’re around them a lot. It is a mix of class life and social life. I have also made a lot of good friends through some classes that aren’t necessarily as social, but I still keep in touch with them. I do have a lot of friends from my sorority, but the majority of my friends from freshman year also joined my sorority.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Penn?
Penn is kind of boujee, people use the term “sceney.” Coming from New Jersey, the parties that are thrown here were so extravagant to me. A lot of them involve renting out another space, dressing up, and there are a lot of formals and date nights. It’s very event-based. They’re also creative events, like freshman year there was a party where a frat paid for buses to take us out to the woods and there was a DJ in a tent booth in the middle of nowhere. It also depends on your flexibility in the social scene because it’s very diverse and you can go or not go to any of those things. One other nice thing is there’s so much going on that you don’t feel the need to go to anything, so you can easily call your own nights in and nights out. There are so many options it’s not like you have to go to anything.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I would say Greek life isn’t very diverse in that respect. With the eight sororities I’m pretty familiar with, three of them are more diverse than others, but there is a predominant demographic of people who join that.

To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
Kind of, but not really. It’s definitely more common for me to hang out with people who are in Greek life than not. I also include off-campus frats when I think of Greek life, by the way. There are maybe a few people who are not in Greek life who hitch on with their friends who are in Greek life. But, in general, most people [who like to go out to parties] join Greek life.

How do you like the size of Penn in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [Penn has about 10,600 undergraduates.]
I really enjoy the size. I love that it’s a small enough school that you know of people. I feel like I have a good handle on the people in my overarching social circle and I’ve been able to get super, super close with a lot of my good friends, but I’m also constantly meeting new people. When I go out I meet new people and in my classes I meet new people, and I think that’s a reflection of the size. It’s definitely not too small and definitely not too big.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
A lot of the jobs I’ve done I got through the on campus recruiting at Penn, but alumni are always reaching out to students at Penn and are receptive to students at Penn. My sorority’s listserv and other listservs I’m on are constantly getting emails from people who are older trying to spread whatever internship posting they have and whatever information they have.

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
They’ve been pretty helpful. I did on campus recruitment where companies come to Penn to recruit Penn students and do the interviews at Penn. During that time, everybody’s walking around in suits and doing interviews between their classes. Before that, I sent career services my resume to look over and set up mock interviews with them. The stressful thing is the time when you need them the most is the time when they’re the busiest. When I was doing on campus recruiting, I needed to do a mock case study interview and I couldn’t book anything with them because they were swamped. I haven’t felt like I’ve used the career services that much, but the career-oriented events at Penn I’ve done. The company I’m working at next year had three events at Penn including a networking reception and an information session.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned Java and a bit of R in my classes and was able to use those in my internship last summer.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Penn before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I had done more extracurriculars freshman year instead of getting stressed out by schoolwork and focusing on that. The difference between extracurriculars in high school and at Penn are the extracurriculars here are a lot more competitive. A lot of them you have to apply to and interview for because they’re smaller clubs. I wish I got more involved for that. I also feel like I took a lot of the professors for granted because a lot of them are renowned business people and researchers, so I wish I did some more impactful research with them and did more research into my classes and who was teaching them. I wish I had been more aggressive with pursuing the opportunities outside of schoolwork.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go to downtown Philly, hopefully on a nice day. When I went to Penn I never considered how the city would impact my experience. I just thought of it as a great school and I loved the campus, but having the city and the restaurants creates so many opportunities.

Reasons to attend Penn:
1) My favorite thing about Penn is there are four undergraduate schools and all the resources available at those schools apply to all the students. I can take any of my elective classes at any of the schools, including Wharton, and I can go to their career events too. Besides the nursing school, I’ve had classes in every school that have counted towards my degree in the College [of Arts & Sciences].
2) The professors here are incredible. I had Angela Duckworth guest lectured one of my psychology classes and Adam Grant teaches some classes that you can apply for.
3) I love Penn’s campus and I love being in a city. That’s been such a pleasure.

Reasons to not attend Penn:
1) Penn is very diverse in terms of actual demographics, but I don’t think Greek life and the social life [I participate in] has not been that diverse for me. It’s a lot of very wealthy students and revolves around money because a lot of the events that are really popular cost money. [Socioeconomically, 19% of students come from the top 1% and 3.6% come from the top 0.1%.]
2) When it comes to career-oriented things, people are very, very competitive.

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